A top Iranian commander said Monday that Iran is increasing its military presence in Syria in order to help Syrian government forces fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad.
Brig. Gen. Hossein Salami, deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, said Iran is increasing the quality and quantity of its presence in Syria, according to Iranian media. He described their mission as an advisory role to help the Syrian army loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. He said the Iranian officers were providing tactical help for Syrian commanders of battalions in direct battles, as well as weapons and ordnance, operational assistance and help with strategic planning, according to a Tasnim report.
Salami did not confirm the number of Iranian troops currently in Syria. However, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers on Tuesday that officials believe there are somewhere under 2,000 Iranians on the ground in Syria.
Iran sent hundreds of troops to the country at the beginning of October to support Assad, just days after Russia began conducting airstrikes in Syria in an alleged attempt to combat the Islamic State (IS). However, U.S. officials believe that Moscow has been deliberately targeting CIA-backed Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime.
Iran and Russia, both strong allies of Assad, have reportedly been plotting their joint military intervention in Syria for months.
Salami also acknowledged Monday that the number of Iranians dying in Syria has increased. His comments came just weeks after Iran confirmed that a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Hossein Hamedani, was killed near Aleppo by IS militants.
According to a U.S. intelligence official, Iran has lost eight senior commanders in Syria since 2013, the majority of them generals.
This week, the U.S. and other world powers for the first time invited Iran to participate in talks regarding the future of Syria. Russia extended the invitation to Iran. State news media reported Wednesday that Iran had agreed to attend the diplomatic talks, which will begin in Vienna Thursday.